The Military Engineer Magazine Article 2017

A Winnable War on Energy Waste

The federal government has a great opportunity to retrofit dated lighting systems with light-emitting diode technology.

By William W. Collins P.E., M.SAME, and Charles Szoradi, M.SAME

About the Publisher: The Military Engineer Magazine (TME) for the Society of American Military Engineers ( SAME was founded in 1920 and is the premier professional military engineering association in the United States. The SAME Board of Direction is comprised of the National Officers, 17 Regional Vice Presidents, 13 Committees & Councils, and 12 Elected Directors. Both of the authors, Mr. Collins and Mr. Szoradi, are SAME members and also members of the Energy and Sustainability Committee. This Print Issue: May-June 2017 Volume 109, Number 708. Theme: Energy & Sustainability.

The Article:

Changing the lights out has not garnered as much attention as renewable power installations like solar photovoltaic panels, wind turbines, and fuel cells. One of the challenges for lighting upgrades has been the visuals. If a lighting retrofit is done well, the before and after photographs are not dramatically different from each other. The “wow” factor lies in the monthly utility bill. Reducing energy waste with lighting often has a payback time in less than three years. Renewable power production has a much longer payback in seven to 10 years. Reducing waste is simply more cost-effective. When it comes to energy-efficient illumination, not all lights and applications are created equal. Light-emitting diode (LED) technology can reduce energy consumption by 50 percent or more over traditional fluorescent tube lighting, and by 80 percent or more over incandescent bulbs. The longer the run time of the lights, the faster the payback. A common 4-ft, 32-W T8 fluorescent tube that costs $3, uses about $10 of electricity each year to operate on a single 12-hour shift, and $20 each year for around-the-clock operations. These costs are based on the U.S. average of $.11/kWh).


Advanced technology pays for itself faster if it is used frequently. For instance, consider the benefits of an energy efficient car on a long commute. When it comes to lighting, facilities that operate 24 hours a day, seven days per week will save about $10/tube/year and pay for new LEDs faster than single shift properties. The 24/7 facilities are the “low hanging fruit” of the lighting retrofit market. Hospitals are excellent opportunities for cost-effective savings.

Veterans Affairs Medical Center. One of the first LED retrofits of a Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center was done in the first quarter of 2013 at the Durham Medical Center in North Carolina.

Opportunity: The Durham Medical Center had inefficient T12 fluorescent fixtures illuminating the back of house and common areas of the 271-bed facility. With a run time of 8,760h/year, the existing 1,200 fixtures used 355,025-kWh per year. At a $.10/kWh electricity rate, the T12 tubes cost $35,501 per year to operate.

Solution: Independence LED Lighting’s U.S.-made LED tubes were used, and cut the wattage consumption by over 50 percent while also improving light levels in the machine rooms, adding to the safety of working conditions. The lights reduce the annual kWh to 183,627-kWh, enabling Durham to become the first Veterans Affairs hospital to set an efficiency benchmark for other public and private sector hospitals.

Results: By replacing fluorescent tubes with new LEDs, the annual energy savings is 171,398- kWh, yielding electricity savings of $17,140 per year. Over the life of the LEDs, the energy and maintenance savings will be more than $150,000, just on the back of the house areas for this one of many facilities.

U.S. Forest Service Administration Offices. During the first quarter of 2014, a retrofit was performed at the U.S. Forest Service’s Pacific Southwest Region administrative offices in Vallejo, Calif. The work was managed by the Department of Agriculture.

Opportunity: The Forest Service sought to reduce energy expenses, while maintaining or improving light quality. With fluorescent 32-W T8 tubes in the facilities, an upgrade to LED presented a cost-effective way to achieve the goals. At 60-hr/week and $.15/kWh, each 4-ft tube used 100.1-kWh and cost $15.02 per year. Pacific Lighting Management, a Department of Energy qualified Energy Service Company, turned to Independence LED Lighting for high performance LED tubes.

Solution: For improved lighting, the contractors collectively recommended using 22-W LEDs for the 4-ft fixtures, and 15-W for the 2-ft fixtures. The energy efficient LEDs include frosted lens to ensure that the Forest Service maintains smooth, quality light at the desk level and work surfaces.

Results: Energy report estimates reveal annual energy savings of over 44,000-kWh and 1.5 million pounds of carbon dioxide. These lighting installations are “early adoptions” of LED technology. Over the past few years, engineers at LED companies have increased the efficiency in lumens per watt from under 100-lm/W to over 145-lm/W. With increased efficiency and lower price points, the government’s cost of waiting is more real than ever before, especially with so many facilities still having fluorescent tubes.


A war on energy waste is winnable given the high return on investment from technology such as LED lighting. Facilities operated by the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs occupy more than 2.2 billion-sq ft, which is two-thirds of the total 3.4 billion sq ft of federal government property. At $1/sq ft to retrofit with LEDs, the annual energy savings is typically $.33/sq ft, or higher. The government could save north of a billion dollars every year just by changing the lights out; that number reaches more than $10 billion over the decade-long life of the LED technology.

By launching a war on energy waste, the government can go beyond job training to also create opportunities for veterans to work on many aspects of lighting retrofits. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, there is more than 87-billionft² of commercial real estate in the United States. With a rate of $1/sq ft to retrofit and one new job created for every $150,000 in lighting retrofits, the employment ripple effect is over 580,000 new jobs. The employment includes counting lights to prepare savings analysis, utility rebate administration, installation, project management, engineering, and product production. Many of the jobs involve science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, so the work is foundational for 21st century careers.

The national energy savings from such a program could exceed $287 billion over the next decade and yield more than 3.4-trillion lb of carbon dioxide emissions reduction—that is the equivalent of taking 30 million cars off the road.

William W. Collins, P.E., M.SAME, is Strategic Sales Executive, ServCoLLC (;

Charles Szoradi, M.SAME, is Chairman and CEO, Independence LED Lighting (; charlie@

Direct Link to the article (Pages 52-53):

Before an LED retrofit project that was completed in 2013, the Durham Medical Center had inefficient T12 fluorescent fixtures illuminating the back of house and common areas of the 271-bed facility. DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS PHOTO

Photo Caption (right side): The energy efficient LED lighting installed at the U.S. Forest Service’s Pacific Southwest Region administrative offices include frosted lens to ensure smooth, quality light at the desk level and work surfaces. U.S. FOREST SERVICE PHOTOS